Jamie Holder remembers when her cake boutique, and the custom stationery and paper goods shop next door, were the only two businesses attracting would-be brides to E. Lancaster Avenue.
“Up until two years ago, we were the ‘lone rangers’ on the east side,” jokes the owner of Crème de la Crème who purchased the building alongside Paper Planet 13 years ago.
Holder got to know Julie West, the stationery store’s proprietor, while working at bridal shows and the entrepreneurs became friends. When the store next to Paper Planet became available, the popular cake designer moved in.
Just a 30-minute drive from anywhere in Fort Worth and close to highway access on Loop 820, I-30 or I-20, Holder calls her confectionery’s location, “a sweet spot.”
“I have a destination business so I didn’t need to be on a busy street or high traffic area like Camp Bowie,” says the baker explaining that wedding and special event cakes are not an impulse purchase. “We don’t rely on walk-in business.”
But Holder is beginning to reconsider that observation. The number of wedding-oriented vendors moving to E. Lancaster Avenue has increased the flow of visitors to Crème de la Crème.
“It’s been crazy,” admits the businesswoman. “I have to hire someone for the front (of the store) because people are coming in for a slice of cake, cupcake or pie.”
In the past 24 months, the newly formed Handley Wedding District on E. Lancaster Avenue has welcomed two wedding/special event planners, a photographer, an entertainment disc jockey, two florists and a bridal salon.
Located seven miles east of downtown Fort Worth, the Handley neighborhood was named for U.S. Civil War veteran James Madison Handley and is home to some historic architecture. Shops housing the wedding businesses on the 6500 block of E. Lancaster were built from 1910 to 1932 and are now part of the National Register of Historic Places. The character and charm of the brick storefronts adds another layer of interest to the one-stop shopping experience for brides.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Holder enthuses. “Never in a million years would I have ever thought this would happen. The east side is just a great area. People are moving here because it’s affordable right now.”
Bliss Bridal is the newest vendor to join the Handley wedding community. The salon moved its inventory of designer wedding gowns, bridesmaid dresses and special occasion apparel from Camp Bowie Blvd. to 6501 E. Lancaster Ave. in early May.
“We needed more parking and more space so we moved over here with our friends,” explains Wendy Holsomback who opened Bridal Bliss with husband, J.T., nine years ago. “We’re not only excited about our business being close to other vendors but also the synergy it creates. It’s a great location for brides to come and one-stop shop.”
Other wedding-oriented business will sometimes share space in the same building, but Holsomback doesn’t know of another wedding district like the one suddenly developing on E. Lancaster. Brides love Bliss Bridal’s expanded space and the convenience of other wedding professionals nearby.
“All the bases are covered here—flowers, cake, photography, entertainment. The only thing this block doesn’t have is a venue and catering,” she points out.
Using floral skills learned in her native England, Justine Chapura stays busy fashioning bridal bouquets and centerpiece arrangements from her studio in back of Crème de la Crème. The florist met the bakeshop owner 20 years ago.
“I had my eye on the strip center for quite a long time but nothing ever opened up. It was always occupied,” Chapura says recalling her disappointment. “So I asked Jamie for space in back of her building.”
Justine’s Flowers is one of two florists housed in the Handley Wedding District. Kate Foley, owner of Kate Foley Designs at 6517 E. Lancaster, has 12 years of wedding experience.
Many of the vendors moving to E. Lancaster Avenue have worked closely together for years and belong to the same professional organizations. The camaraderie benefits both the brides and the companies they hire.
“These are people we like to work with and we already know their reputations,” Chapura explains. “You always hear stories about vendors going out of business and leaving brides high and dry. We want to associate ourselves with professional people who will still be around in a couple of months.”
Jonathan Burns, officer manager and designer at Paper Planet, has used the store’s industry connections to help customers in crisis. Fifty to 60 soon-to-be brides and their helpers visit the shop each month to purchase invitations, engraved napkins and other paper goods.
“We’ve had situations arise where a bride’s event planner is double booked or the florist can’t do the flowers and we offer, as an alternative, one of the people on this strip,” he says. “We’ve worked with some of these vendors for years—before they located here.”
Providing services and goods for weddings is a growing industry, Burns says and the banding together of like-minded businesses just makes sense. With the average cost of nuptials, reception and all the trimmings costing an average of $35,329 according to The Knot 2016 Real Weddings Study, couples are more eager than ever to create the ultimate guest experience. And that can mean everything from choosing glow-in-the-dark save the date reminders to hauling potted trees into a ballroom to create an instant forest effect.
Two wedding planners — Jen Rios Weddings and Tami Winn Events — are both part of the Handley Wedding District. For Winn, the 6507 E. Lancaster office is a second location. She still maintains space at an east Fort Worth business park.
“We were looking for something with more retail flair to it,” says Winn, who moved to the new storefront in January 2017. “When this space opened up near other vendors we work with on a regular basis, I snatched it up.”
The veteran coordinator, who oversees 100 special events a year, uses the workplace to mull over linen samples, centerpieces and important details with brides and other clients.
“We love being here and the brides love it, too!” she beams.
The proximity of other wedding-oriented businesses puts brides at ease, suggests Michelle Peyronet, who launched Peyronet Photography in 2005. She joined the network of E. Lancaster wedding vendors last year and displays her portfolio to clients in office space rented from Crème de la Crème.
“We’re all here together and it solidifies us as professionals who have been doing this a long time,” Peyronet continues. “We support each other and there’s some extra inherent trust. Brides know we’re legit and not some random vendor that’s going to run off with their cash.”
It’s also a timesaver for harried couples with much to do before the big day, she adds.
“Brides can get a lot checked off their list in one visit instead of driving all over town for their dress, cake appointment or to see the planner.”
It seems almost everything needed to entertain guests is a step away. William Ryan III, owner of It’s Your Night Entertainment at 6523 E. Lancaster, provides music, lighting and a photo booth for weddings and parties.
“I know vendors who share an office but nothing like this,” says the camera pro. “There are only a few stores here that are not wedding related. We’ve pretty much taken over the whole block.”